Persephone & the Power of Conjunctions
I didn’t think my first post would have a message of any real import to convey. I was hoping to open with a light-hearted, light-weight introduction to the writing and drinking style that is…The Sea to Sky Beer Guy! Nope. Instead, what we’ve got is a hard-hitting, play by play of an event I attended last week called Brews, Bites, and Beer Farming. The next post will be a little less lofty, but I’d be doing a disservice to the cause not to bring attention to a situation that is happening right here, right now, right across from the Sea to Sky Corridor. Will this bit of adjunct Journalism win the Beer Guy a Pulitzer? For a whole host of reasons, Hell No! Aside from being under-qualified and over-biased, I just wanted this post to be a platform for you to see what’s going on with Persephone Brewing Company and what you can do about it.
So on Thursday, April 20th, the Crabapple Café in Brackendale hosted a shindig put on by the Squamish Climate Action Network (Squamish CAN) and Persephone Brewing Company. I missed the intro (given by someone I assume was from Squamish CAN) because my buddy and I were late. And if you’re at all nervous in social situations or perhaps crave a little anonymity due to a general feeling of out-of-your-depth-ness I would totally suggest coming to an event late like we did. The record scratches to a halt, all eyes turn to you, and you’re inevitably seated at the least desirable table: front-row centre. Thankfully, the pint of Persephone placed in my sweaty palms assuaged all feelings of journalistic ineptitude and general discomfiture.
Brian Smith, Persephone’s CEO, came up and began dropping knowledge that I will now endeavor to distill for your drinking pleasure, adding my own secret sauce to the glass (hint: the spelling/grammatical errors, run-on sentences and less than lucid thoughts are mine!)
Persephone Brewing Company is a Beer Farm situated on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land in the Sunshine Coast of BC. They grow their own hops and use those hops in the production of their delicious beer, which is available on site and all over this fine province. According to the regulations for the ALR as they currently stand, Persephone Brewing Company is NOT in compliance, and has two years to either bring their farm into compliance or vacate the land.
So here is how they got there:
When Persephone started, the ALR regulations as they pertained to breweries, were not well defined. But they did state that you could process farm product on your farm if you grew 50% of your own ingredients. Based on that general statement, coupled with conversations Persephone had with local government and staff at the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC, the body responsible for governing the use of ALR land) as well as pre-existing models of ALR land use (namely wineries and cideries) Persephone began brewing on site using 50% of their own ingredients. The ingredient in question? The mighty Hop.
All was good.
But after a few years of operation there were a couple whispers of concern floating around from the lips people Brian categorized as ALR or food advocates. They were essentially asking the question, “is this an adequate use of ALR land?” Their position seemed to be, “because I am unfamiliar with this use of ALR land, I’m skeptical of it.” Brian understood these questions and felt they were valid, wishing only that the whispers had come to him directly via an actual visit to the farm instead of at arm’s length and aimed at the ALC. Direct interaction with Persephone to arrive at a greater understanding may not have resolved the complainant’s concerns, but it would have been a good faith way of starting things off. So it goes.
The few concerns that were raised prompted the ALC to ask, “Hey Persephone, what ARE you doing over there? Do you meet the regulations that govern this land?” When the ALC took a closer look they determined that, while Persephone was growing 50% of the ingredients going into their beer, that particular ingredient (the mighty, mighty Hop!) would not factor into the equation because it weighs far less than the other, principal ingredient: barley. The ALC determines the required 50% by weight and volume, and because barley weighs more than hops in beer’s recipe bill, the hops don’t count. So when Persephone said, “we can grow more than enough hops to meet the requirement” the ALC replied, “Nope, you have to grow 50% of your barley to be in compliance.” and that was that.
Persephone then applied for a Non-Farm Use Application, which is a essentially a variance from the regulation, based on the fact that it’s not feasible to grow barley on their particular parcel of land and the Sunshine Coast in general. Their application was denied for the same reason: you don’t grow 50% of your barley, you aren’t in compliance, you don’t qualify for a Non-Farm Use Application.
This is where Persephone currently stands.
Well there are a bunch of things wrong with this in my mind (obviously in Brian’s, too, as I’m paraphrasing the HELL out of his presentation here!) not the least of which is the fact that the regulation is governing what crop a farm can or cannot grow. They are governing crop choice, not land use. In Persephone’s case, they’re using 98% of their ALR land to grow an agricultural product, but that doesn’t matter. This fairly reeks of big brother or government micro-mis-management or -enter your sinister turn of phrase here-. The second thing wrong with this picture, and to my mind the worst aspect of this whole rotten turnip is that the regulations are different for wineries and cideries situated on ALR land.
The way wineries and cideries are governed is that they have to grow 50% of their ingredients on site OR (the two letter conjunction that ties to the title of this pretty little ditty) they can purchase those ingredients from BC farms. That OR clause was NOT written into the regulations when the ALC updated them to include breweries, meaderies and distilleries. In Persephone’s case, they had already committed to buying 50% of their barley from BC farms when they started and are currently buying over 60% from Gambrinus Malting, out of Armstrong, BC. As an aside, not having the OR clause could actually be seen as a disincentive for some breweries to buy their ingredients in BC: preferring a cheaper product to a local one.
Sooooo why not?
Why didn’t the OR clause that applies to wineries and cideries get applied to breweries, meaderies and distilleries? When Persephone was finally able to ask that question, they were told that the ALC was taking a “cautionary approach”. Now is the time when you can voice your, Shadowy Boot of Big Beer conspiracy (I certainly did!) or else chalk it up to a poorly crafted regulation (which Brian alluded to) but regardless: it just doesn’t seem right, does it? It certainly doesn’t seem balanced or fair. How is operating a winery on ALR land different from operating a brewery on that same designated land? To say nothing of golf courses or the general selling off of ALR land to the highest bidder (be it Molson’s in Chilliwack or condo developer’s everywhere) which Brian and Persephone are absolutely opposed to (they do NOT want to take their parcel of land out of the ALR). Persephone just wants a level playing field so that beer farms are able to process their product, thereby creating a value-added business model that grows the BC economy and gives us thirsty bastards some great beer.
So who does this affect?
Well Persephone, obviously. Crannog Ales, out of Sorrento, is also a brewery that operates on ALR land but, as they’ve been up and running since 2000 under the earliest definitions of the regulations, my understanding is that they’ve been grandfathered in. There are a couple breweries coming online in the near future on ALR land; the first is up in Pemberton (What? Yes! An addition to the Sea to Sky, baby! More info to come just as soon as I seek it out) and the second is in Delta. But both of these breweries are looking to be in compliance thru the growing of their own barley. There are also half a dozen hop farms in BC that are waiting for this, most stickiest of wickets, to resolve before they adopt a similar model to Persephone. By way of contrast, there are 300 wineries currently on the ALR in BC, many of which are not in compliance with their ALR regulations.
So what can Persephone do? And what the hell can we do? Brian would like two things to happen but either one of them would bring Persephone into compliance. The first is for the ALC to consider hops in their calculation of 50% of a farm’s ingredients instead of just the physically heavier crop, barley. Or better still, to abandon the weight and volume measurement entirely and use land use in their determination. The second is to have the ALC regulation amended so that the OR clause afforded to wineries and cideries would also apply to breweries, meaderies and distilleries. There’s a well-crafted letter on change.org that petitions the Minister of Agriculture to do exactly that and here is the link:
Click the link, sign the petition, call two friends and get them to do the same, then hoist a pint in celebration of making the world a better place. Once 5000 people have signed (5K is a number with a significant amount of gravitas to it) it will be sent to the minister and, barring bureaucratic bullshit, justice will be served with a tulip glass full of liquid loveliness.
Thanks for getting to the end, dear reader. The next post probably won’t be as wordy. Ah, hell- it probably will, but maybe it will be funnier.
Ah, hell- it probably won’t.